Sense of Place: Music echoes through the history of Juilliard Park

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Juilliard Park is on Santa Rosa Avenue, just a few blocks south of Old Courthouse Square. One of the city’s oldest parks, it was named for the Juilliard family, who lived there for many years.

Charles Frederic Juilliard was born to a French shoemaker and his wife in 1825. Charles was 10 when he and his family of five boarded a ship bound for the United States. His pregnant mother delivered another son, Augustus, while they were still at sea.

Charles spent his teenage years in Ohio before heading to California during the Gold Rush. In 1858, when he was 33, Charles married Sarah Chilton in Sacramento. During their early years together the couple moved to Red Bluff and then San Leandro, where Charles worked as a hardware merchant. The Juilliards were there when their fourth child, Frederic Augustus, named obliquely for both his father and his uncle, was born.

In 1872, the family came to Santa Rosa and bought 14 acres just across Santa Rosa Creek from downtown. They built a two-story home and planted an orchard with “a great variety of fruit.” Besides the farm, Charles was soon busy with a hardware business on the square and a winemaking enterprise in Sebastopol.

Years later, Frederic Juilliard left home to attend the University of California at Berkeley. He served on the Music Committee and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1891. Returning home, he worked as a deputy county clerk for a while, but by 1899 had moved to New York City and was in business with his uncle, Augustus.

By that time, Augustus was an extremely successful businessman, with investments in banks, railroads and other enterprises. He was also a well-known philanthropist and patron of the arts. Augustus had a great love for music and served on the board of the New York Metropolitan Opera. He also supported the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History.

Frederic shared his uncle’s love for music. On Augustus’ death in 1919, his estate included a $5 million bequest to create the Juilliard Music Foundation. Frederic was named one of the trustees.

At the time it was the largest single endowment ever made for the advancement of music education. In 1926, the foundation merged with the New York Institute of Musical Art to form a performing arts conservatory now known as the Juilliard School.

Though he spent more than half his life on the East Coast, Frederic never forgot his Sonoma County roots.

In 1931, he donated his family’s property to the city of Santa Rosa. The gift included his childhood home as well as outbuildings, fruit and shade trees. He stipulated that the home be removed and the property developed for a public park. The Depression was already in full swing and funding was secured from the city’s relief fund as well as federal work programs.

On many Sunday evenings during the summer you can enjoy a free concert at Juilliard Park and remember a music lover who was born in the middle of the Atlantic, and his nephew, who gave us both a world-famous music school and a park in Santa Rosa.

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